Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is reaching out to religious groups to forge a social safety net that would be bigger and better than public or private sectors could achieve on their own.
Plans for the Engage305 project were announced Wednesday at a conference at Miami Dade College.
The main infrastructure of Engage305, according to Gimenez aide Lisa Martinez, will be a soon-to-launch county website where religious groups can create an on-line, faith-based network to deal cooperatively with social issues.
Gimenez said the original plan was to acquaint outside agencies with services offered by the county. But he agrees it could be a powerful partnership that goes both ways.
"Who knows the needs of our diverse residents better than the equally diverse, faith-based community that serves them?" the mayor asked during his luncheon keynote.
During one breakout session about the social needs of former jail and prison inmates trying to return to society, it became clear that the county is actually the needy partner in search of friends like Linda Freeman, a minister who runs Trinity Church's Peacekeeper Family Center. Its volunteers travel with children to visit distant prisons, so soon-to-be released inmates can reconnect with their families before they reintegrate into the free world.
Freeman says it's all part of the panoply of services that need to come from expertise that the county bureaucracy can’t always muster.
"(Former inmates) need to connect with a job and find housing, and the only way the county can do that effectively is to connect their services to community-based, faith based organizations," Freeman said.
Other ministers were making less ambitious plans. Guillermo Marquez-Sterling of Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ got what he needed just by showing up at the conference.
"I just made my way through the tables and I picked up a few brochures here and there. So that when I go back to my church and somebody asks for some kind of assistance, I may have it at my fingertips."
And, so it begins: a new county-church relationship, led by the mayor, and all about social needs in the 3-0-5.